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20 Travel Zambia May 2007 Livingstone From the small hill on which the town of Livingstone is perched, you can clearly see the great cloud of water vapour that hangs over Victoria Falls, 10km to the south. The Makololo people called this awe-inspiring sight Mosi oa Tunya (‘the smoke that thunders’), and David Livingstone himself famously waxed lyrical about its beauty. Today ‘Mosi’ is the name of a local beer, and the small settlement that was founded in the great explorer’s name has mushroomed into a tourist boomtown. Livingstone was founded in 1905 with the arrival of the railway line that Cecil Rhodes grandly envisaged would link Cape Town and Cairo. The town was laid out with wide, tree-lined streets in keeping with its role as the capital of colonial Northern Rhodesia. In 1939, however, the administration moved to Lusaka and, after only twenty years of privilege, Livingstone was stripped of its rank. This marked the start of a long, slow decline that left its once majestic streets pot-holed and neglected. Until ten years ago the town had very few visitors, but since then its apparent slide into obscurity has been radically reversed. Last year, nearly 150,000 international passengers landed at Livingstone Airport – roughly equal to the town’s current population – and the overwhelming majority of these were tourists. They came from all over the world to sample the host of adventure activities available around the Falls, from white-knuckle rafting to bungee-jumping, quad-biking and elephant-back safaris. They came to see wildlife in the nearby Mosi oa Tunya and Zambezi National Parks. They came because Livingstone is a gateway to the world famous safari destinations of Kafue, Chobe and Hwange. And most of all they came to see one of the natural wonders of the world: the Victoria Falls themselves. The nearest Zambian hotel to the Falls is the Zambezi Sun, which clearly benefits from having one of the world’s most spectacular sights right on its doorstep. “The key is location, location, location,” says manager Sean Tomkins, Canoeists share the Zambezi with hippos (below), while fishermen still ply the waters in more traditional craft (opposite). TONGABEZI “It is this close-up view of power and beauty that draws visitors from all over the globe.”

May 2007 Travel Zambia 21 “Protect the treasure and spread the wealth are the two messages that Livingstone must heed.” who points out that visitors must now book six months to a year in advance just to get a room. Ten years ago Livingstone’s tourism industry was merely embryonic. Sun International’s investment in the Zambezi Sun and Royal Livingstone hotels has been a significant catalyst in the subsequent boom. Now there are more than 25 lodges in the town and along the Zambian banks of the Zambezi. There are also numerous guesthouses and backpacker lodges in town, and new hotels under construction. This adds up to around 3,000 tourist beds, a radical increase in a decade but still nowhere near enough if Livingstone is to meet its next goal. In 2010 South Africa will host football’s World Cup and somewhere between 500,000 and one million travelling fans are expected to attend. The lure of the Falls and their close proximity to South Africa will make Livingstone a natural destination for many, and the town is working to exploit the potential. The airport has already expanded to take bigger aircraft and even more new accommodation is planned. There is a paradox here. The success of Livingstone is built on the wild beauty of its natural surroundings. Yet all this growth means the area is much busier than it was a few years ago: more pleasure flights over the Falls, more boats on the river and more traffic on the streets. With Livingstone’s desire to expand its tourism over the next three years, the pressure on the environment and local infrastructure will only increase. It’s the potential damage to the environment that Nick Katanenkwa, Chairman of the Livingstone Tourism Association, sees as the most pressing concern. “People are not coming for hotels, they are coming for the quality of the environment,” says Nick. “If it is not sustained, why come?” He fears that without taking steps to manage the situation, Livingstone may be left with growth that will eventually crumble and an environment that has lost its wilderness value. “We want to work to ensure there is protection for our environment,” he asserts. The Zambezi Sun is the closest hotel to the falls. SUN INTERNATIONAL TONGABEZI >>